Novodevichy Convent Guided Tour - Moscow

  • duration: 2 hours
  • price: 45 €
  • order: Book

What You Will See on Novodevichy (New Maiden) Convent Tour

The Novodevichy Convent is one of the most beautiful monastic ensembles in Russia. It was included on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2004. It is a dazzling architectural gem with crenellated walls of white brick, red-capped towers and gleaming onion domes. It is a complex of 14 buildings including living, utility constructions, bell towers and churches.

The main entrance to the convent is served by the Baroque-style Transfiguration of the Saviour Gate-Church which stands over the convent's Northern Gates - red in color with five small golden domes. The church was built between 1687 and 1689. Built onto the western side of the Northern Gates is the Lopukhinskie Chambers, which dates from the same time as the church.

The architectural ensemble was formed from the 16th to 17th centuries. The ancient convent cathedral was dedicated to the Smolensk icon of the Mother of god coming from Byzantium. It was a mostly revered icon in the Smolensk Province.

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Rising majestically above the main entrance is the Gate-Church of the Transfiguration built in the baroque style in the 17th century. The long two-store building nearby broken up with white pillars is the Lopukhin Chamber, residence of yet another of Peter’s victims, his former wife Yevdokiya. The attention to detail is the external decoration with pilasters, carved window surrounds and gables has to be admired and is a common feature of the convent buildings.

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The white stone Virgin of Smolensk Cathedral, the oldest part of the convent, lies at the center of
the complex. Dating from 1524-1525 it was clearly inspired by the Cathedral of the Assumption in the Kremlin. The walls are decorated with frescoes from the late 16th century which provide a magnificent backdrop for the five-tier iconostasis presented by Sofia in 1686. Behind the apse of the cathedral there is an octagonal bell-tower- six tiers, each ornamented in a style of its own, rising with effortless grace to a golden onion dome crowned by a tall cross.

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The strangely elongated Church of the Assumption (sometimes called the Dormition) is to the west of the Smolensk Cathedral. Both the church and the adjoining refectory were built in 1685. This is possibly the best place in Moscow to hear divine service – the singing of the choir is superb, so try and schedule a visit for Sunday.

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Beyond the Refectory is the 16th-century Church of St Ambrose and almost hugging the southern wall of the fortress is the Chamber of Irina Godunova. Another Gate Church, called the Pokrov or Intercession rounds off the architectural masterpiece.

The Necropolis, appeared here in XVI century was enlarged greatly, and also many famous statesmen, heroes of the war, writers and scientists were buried here.

Just outside the southern walls there is the cemetery, final resting place of numerous famed Russians including the writers Gogol and Chekov, the film director Eisenstein, the composer Prokofiev, the theatre director Stanislavsky, former Soviet leader Nikita Khruschev and Stalin’s ill-fated wife-Nadezhda Alliluyeva.

What You Will Know

  • why the Convent is called Novodevichy
  • he story of Napoleon's invasion
  • wonders of Sophia's Tower
  • mystic waters of the pond
  • noble inhabitants of the convent

The History of the Place

The New Maiden Convent was founded by order of Grand Prince Vasily III in 1524 to commemorate the capture of Smolensk in 1514 and victory of Russia over the Polish and Lithuanian forces in the battle for the borderlands and the return of the town of Smolensk.

The Convent is dedicated to Our Lady of Smolensk Icon. It was built on the River Moskva. It was aimed as fortification but also served as a place of retirement or imprisonment for female members of the Russian Royal Family.

In 1598 Irina Godunova (the widow of Tsar Feodor I) became a nun under the name of Aleksandra. Sofia Alekseevna, the half-sister of Peter the Great and former regent of Russia, was imprisoned here from 1689 up to her death in 1704.

In 1727, Tsarina Yevdokia Lopukhina (the first wife of Peter the Great) was permitted by her grandson Emperor Peter II to return from exile in Schlisselburg and to settle at Novodevichy Convent.   The museum holds exhibits in the convent's Tsareva Sofia Chambers and the Irina Godunova Chambers attached to the St Ambrose's Church, as well as in the Our Lady of Smolensk Cathedral.

For many years, the Novodevichy Convent was the richest and most privileged monastery in Russia. Only noble women who sacrificed their treasures were able to enter it.

The appearance of the monastery was gradually transformed, and in the 17th century a magnificent ensemble of the monastery was formed in the Moscow Baroque style.

Boris Godunov was proclaimed Tsar here in 1598, after his sister Irina took the veil following the death of her husband, Tsar Fedor. After the time of Troubles when it was severely damaged, Peter the Great’s half- sister Sofia presided over the convent’s restoration. It was also in the late 17th century that the plain towers were decorated with arcades, gables and pinnacles giving them a fairy-tale appearance.

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When Napoleon arrived in Moscow in 1812 he gave orders for the now dilapidated building to be blown up but at the last moment an unknown hero managed to extinguish the fuses.

Under the Communists the complex became a museum.

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